How to improve your Au Pair relationship in just one minute

by cv harquail on July 11, 2015

cat in hat saying WORD If I told you that you could improve your relationship with your au pair in just one minute, would you try it?

Sure you would.

You’re a busy host mom (or dad), juggling many demands and competing priorities. And, you’re a busy host mom who wants her au pair to know when she is doing something well and wants her to feel good about herself. So of course you’re willing to try something, especially if it takes only one minute.

But what can you do in just one minute that will have a positive effect on your au pair? Give her one minute of praise for a job done right.

One Minute of Praise for a Job Done Right

Step one: Catch your au pair doing something right.

Step two: Spend 60 seconds (or even less!) praising your au pair for doing it right.

It barely takes 30 seconds, much less 60, to tell someone directly:

(1) what they did,
(2) why it’s considered well-done, and
(3) how much you appreciate it.

Here’s an example:

"Krishnie, what a great job you’re doing getting the kids to hang up their coats every time they come inside! (what) The hallway is so neat and tidy, and we can even shut the closet door. (why) It not only makes the house feel calmer, but I’ll bet that it will be easier tomorrow when you all are leaving for school. (another why — (why not!) ) I really appreciate what you’re doing with the kids. (how much) Thank you so much."

girl closet1

You don’t even have to be as elaborate as that example… just be immediate , specific and positive .

You still want to give your au pair brief, positive and direct correctives when she is doing something ‘wrong’. Correcting ‘mistakes’ is important. But catching your au pair doing something good has an entirely different effect.

When you tell your au pair that something is wrong and explain how to do it right, you fix that specific problem. But, when you catch your au pair doing something right , you not only reinforce the specific positive behavior, but also you reinforce her general motivation to do well.

Plus, you show th at you care about a good job , and you show that you notice when she’s accomplished what you’ve asked.

Giving your au pair One Minute of Praise for a Job Done Right has 2 other benefits.

1. One minute of praising your au pair helps you be more aware of the positive things that your au pair contributes.

2. One minute of praising your au pair helps you create in your home an atmosphere of gratefulness and appreciation.

Want even more benefits? Try this:

Offer your au pair One Minute of Praise for a Job Done Right, and do it in front of the children.

Yes, that’s right. In front of the children.

Normally, you want to offer your comments about an au pair’s job performance or behavior in private, without the children. But, when you offer your One Minute of Praise for a Job Done Right when your children can hear you do it:

3. You show the children that doing things right is valuable in your family.

4. You show your children that doing things right is something you (Mom or Dad!) notice and pay attention to. And,

5. You show your children that you appreciate your au pair and what she is contributing to the family, no matter how small and specific that contribution may be.

Pretty nice outcome for just one minute of effort, don’t you think?


Soccer Mom March 1, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Maybe this is putting a negative spin on a positive here, but it makes it easier for our AP to take our suggestions for change if she hears she is doing something right and we don’t think she is doing everything wrong. Unfortunately it is just easier to tell her everything we want changed, and it is an effort to point out and praise what is done right. I guess that is your point.

EUROaupair August 27, 2010 at 3:32 pm

I wish I got even 10 seconds praise! I don’t get any critism, either, though. Its just taht half the time I never know whether I am doing it right or wrong and if I ask I get a shrug lol!

HRHM July 12, 2015 at 9:29 am

Thanks for the reminder! I try to do this, but it’s easy to kind of let it dwindle as the year goes by. We are into the new year with our old (extending) AP and I need to renew efforts. I don’t want her to think we take all her great work for granted, after all, that’s why we’re extending for the first time ever.

Multitasking Host Mom July 12, 2015 at 1:04 pm

I came across this concept many years ago when my kids were young and I was reading way to many parenting books trying to figure out how I was supposed to do all of this. In that case, it was directed at getting your child to behave and was called “catching your child doing something right”, but I have since realized that what applies to rasing kids can also translate on at least some level to managing employees. At my work, I always try to point out something my employees did right a couple times a week. Besides for just making for a positive work environment, it does give our employer/employees relationship a solid foundation so when I do have to correct them on a mistake they made ( something I still dread doing but since I work in a highly regulated environment it is necessary ) I feel like the employee is much more open to own the problem and work on preventing it.

I have been lucky that my last two APs have been great overall, but I do still thank them for doing something even if it is a task that they are suppose to do but they just went a little beyond when they got it done. I find that noticing the little things can make just as much or even more of an impact.

I would caution though not it go overboard with this praise, otherwise it can come off as being insincere. CV is right that keeping it short…a minute or so…is best. And make sure that you are truly complimenting a good behavior that you want to continue. Also, don’t feel it needs to be done everyday. Repetition can make it seem less special.

I also love the suggestion of getting my kids on board with this. Wouldn’t it be awsome if they started taking a minute to praise the AP, each other, or even their parents. A girl can dream….

Mimi July 14, 2015 at 11:28 am

This was also a babysitting discovery of mine and something I used for employees and I totally agree with how you’ve described how it lays a solid foundation for constructive criticism and positive reception/feedback. It’s nice to be the ‘compliment department’ instead of the complaint department for a change. It was never intuitive for me because I’m one who typically prefers to hear about what I’m doing wrong without the “flowery niceties.” (It’s that German directness I grew up with.)

Our household is chaotic enough (even as structured as it is) and I find it helps add some harmony back into our days. I use it with my children as well as with the AP and encourage the APs to use it also. The APs who have picked it up quickly have been better motivators and had a better relationship with the children than the ones who resisted using it. It seems to be working because HD got some rockstar feedback about his mowing skills from our 6 y/o twins and how important his yard skills are for their fun. (One of them later criticism-sandwiched him on his craft skills while they were working on a model project.) :)

WarmStateMomma July 12, 2015 at 7:40 pm

Thanks for this reminder! I intend to point out all the great things I notice our AP doing, but definitely don’t do it enough. Since my kids are so little, they are developing quickly. I like to point out to our AP how her actions are helpful for the kids’ development – it’s amazing how motivated they are to continue an action when they realize it’s noticed, appreciated and helping the kids in a meaningful way.

SwissAuPair July 13, 2015 at 12:53 am

That is so true! I once had a HM that needed to tell me whatever bothered her right away. I got a call at 10 p.m. to tell me that she found a little bit of dust in a corner at the bathroom and she wishes me to clean the whole area again. I was often very upset by this calls or text messages. But on the other hand there were text messages that said “thank you for picking up child 1,2 and 3 and cooking a delicious meal for them” or “I appreciate that everything went so smooth this morning so I could catch up some sleep after you left the hosue with the children”. I was so very very happy about this messages.

I got more negative messages than positive ones, but after a while I found out that HM just really need to tell everything right away and maybe could not sleep if she wouldn’t have “talked” about it. And I knew she did not wanted to be mean or make me feel sad, she just wanted to tell. I just had a problem how she did it. Instead of writing: “The bathroom was really not clean in the corner behind the door, I expect you to clean it again tomorrow”, she could/should have written: “Thank you for cleaning our bathroom today. Over the last few weeks I noticed that you sometimes miss the spot behind the door, and since there is a bunch of hair all the time I would appreciate it if you would take care of it the next time, good night”

Long Island Host Mom July 13, 2015 at 1:56 am

Sometimes Swiss Au Pair – I find I do the same = if I don’t send the message – I will surely forget. But keeping an open dialogue sometimes we are able to eliminate a formal weekly sit down meeting…I don’t just do this with my AP but also everyone else in my life. It’s so hectic and I have so many things on my plate I am juggling – its better to get it off my list ASAP so I can deal with other things. Its good to be aware of this though from the AP perspective…but the reason we have AP’s if also because we are so busy and the less we have to deal with the less stressed we are as well.

SwissAuPair July 13, 2015 at 4:35 am

I heard often that it is a swiss thing to be overly polite and rather ask: “Could you pleas do XY” insted of “Do XY”. Our version means the same than yours, but it just makes one feel like one had a choice. So the very direct way sounds harsh, rude, unkind,… to swiss people. That is why germans in Switzerland often hear that they are unfriendly people.

American Host Mom in Europe July 13, 2015 at 6:28 am

It is both cultural and linguistic on this! I’m a native English speaker but my current au pair is not, and when she started, I always wanted to be polite, and spoke the way I had to most of my previous (mostly native-English speaking) au pairs. But she found the “Could you please do xxx” distracting, by the time she got through making sure she understood the first part, sometimes she’d missed what I actually was asking her to do — she asked me to stop being so polite and just get to the point of what I wanted!

HRHM July 13, 2015 at 11:51 am

It’s funny, I was just thinking about how whenever I tried the “polite” version with our German APs, they seemed to take it as a possible suggestion, rather than a polite order! So I guess we really need to understand the cultural bent of each AP in order to get it right. Now I know, if I get a Swiss AP, I can go back to being polite rather than so direct. :)

Returning HM July 13, 2015 at 12:10 pm

We have had the exact same problem! My gentle suggestions phrased with “you might want to” or “what about if we think about….?” have not gone anywhere, whereas “this is the way we do it” has been heard and understood clearly.

We have had only German, Swiss, and Austrian APs in the last five years, and I haven’t encountered any differences among them in preferred phraseology — all have used themselves and seemed to prefer a to-the-point style of communication, which I appreciate and have come to really like. It frankly has made me a better professor, too, to tell my students more clearly what I want them to do rather than phrasing things like they have a choice (think: “you should focus on XYZ in your reading” rather than “you might want to think about XYZ as you read”).

SwissAuPair July 13, 2015 at 4:05 pm

As many germans work in Switzerland I had the same problem very often. When I say: “It would be nice if you could find time to do XY for me”, some germans (and actually a lot of other non-swiss people) understand: “Do it in the next 5 days if you have time, if not, tell me and I will find another one to do it”, but what I mean is: “It’s okay to finish what you are doing right now, but start immediately afterwards with what I’ve told you!”

But again, I work on a construction place and not at a leading swiss bank or whatever super-special company with very business like people.

Germans learn the “Swiss-Way” of communication, and swiss people adapt to non-swiss communication. I think you will find out easily what way of talking your AP prefers and, more important, what way she understands.

Schnitzelpizza July 14, 2015 at 5:26 am

SwissAuPair, next time you want a German to understand “It’s okay to finish what you are doing right now, but start immediately afterwards with what I’ve told you!” and still be polite try to go for something like “After you have finished what you are doing right now, would you please be so kind as to do this next?”

You will either get an instant no (in which case your answer would be, yes ^^) or they will likely understand that it’s not a polite question but a definite request.

We are getting there ;) I promise! Just that sometimes we are a bit thick and need to be told to do stuff instead of being asked.

AlwaysHopeful HM July 14, 2015 at 8:55 am

Even within the US, it varies by region. In my job, I interact with and advise people across the country. I have found for example, that a direct, even harsh approach is often welcomed by my east coast colleagues (esp. NY), while a more gentle, overly polite approach is more effective in dealing with my central/mountain coworkers.

Should be working July 14, 2015 at 11:33 am

I found that I felt more comfortable visiting those blunt-spoken countries than when visiting California. I prefer blunt to passive-aggressive!

Long Island Host Mom July 13, 2015 at 1:52 am

As much as possible, I thank my AP. Even if I need her to correct something, I start with a positive. Usually – Thank you so much for ….I really appreciate it…I think we might be able to do …..a bit differently…and then explain what it is. I think starting with a positive allows them to know you notice the good and not just the correction and also they are more open to hearing the correction when you start off on a positive note. It is much harder to do though if you keep correctling the same thing over and over…then it might be time for a more formal sit down = but even then = start with the positive.

Returning HM July 13, 2015 at 11:36 am

This is one area I am actually good at, because I learned to do this from my mother. She was a middle/high school teacher most of her adult life, and she was wonderful about these small compliments (sincere, brief, targeted). I think this was at least one of the reasons why she was so beloved by all the students in the school – they knew that she SAW them and APPRECIATED them for who they were. It also meant, as MultitaskingHM said, that they could hear critiques from her much easier too, because they had a sense of trust and rapport already built, so she was able to get from students their best work and their maximum efforts.

I find that the small compliments – often said in the mix of doing other things, but just taking a moment to show “I see what you’re doing and appreciate what you’re doing” – go way further than even the structured positive feedback we might give at a meeting or a performance review.

Anyway, I try to do this regularly with those I interact with – my husband, my children, my AP, my students, my colleagues – and find that the more I do it, the more natural it feels (and the more happiness I get back from doing it, so this reinforces my doing it). Stopping in the middle of a busy morning to turn to our AP and say, “I just want to say how much I appreciate that you are so structured in the morning and so able to just RUN with the morning routine,” gives him a huge boost. I try to do this over text too – for example: “what an awesome afternoon you planned for child 2 – thank you for putting so much effort into planning!,” and I always get a response back thanking me for my thanks and saying how much it means to AP to get these notes, so again, I get positive reinforcement for taking the time to do this.

I also try to be public about thanking AP because I know that public praise means a lot to most APs, and our current one in particular. A note on his FB page, tagging him on a great pic with a note of thanks, or even a shout-out on his timeline go a long way to letting him know that his effort and presence are appreciated. The references who wrote on his behalf in his AP application get to read these too, and I always get “I told you so!” notes back from them, which they and I both love.

Thanks for posting this, CV. Great topic.

Seattle Mom July 13, 2015 at 12:24 pm

This is a very good reminder for me. I do tell my AP what I think she is doing well, but I’m not good at saying it right when it happens, and probably not often enough. I also get nervous about correcting behavior and it often takes me 2 weeks to figure out how to phrase it and work up the nerve to open the conversation. Maybe this would be easier for me if I knew that I have been telling her that she’s doing a good job almost all the time.

BearCo Momma July 13, 2015 at 9:10 pm

Thanks! This is a good reminder and I definitely need to do this more often. I am so busy during the week that sometimes we don’t even have time to catch up. I have so many things on my mind, it’s easier to look around quickly, see what needs to be corrected, and then move on down the list of things I still have to do.

My relationship with my AP is a bit strained at the moment – for various reasons – maybe this will help.

Taking a Computer Lunch July 13, 2015 at 10:06 pm

I think of this as gratitude. We thank our APs for going out of their way to make our lives easier (never mind that we are paying dearly for the privilege), and they should thank us too (for buying a favorite food, for letting them end their shift early on a Friday,for unexpectedly topping off the gas tank in the AP car, for bringing them along on a family trip to a destination city, etc.). I grew up with the aphorism, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

I also disagree with Soccer Mom. Catch your AP “doing good,” and you’ll gain more traction with comments like, “You know I praised you the other day/last week/last month for X, but I’d like to see you do more Y. You may not think it’s important to me, but it is. You’ve been working really hard, and I appreciate it, but I want…”

I think that the AP who is appreciated for what she does will rise to the occasion more than the AP who always gets a smack down (same with kids).

IntellectualMom July 14, 2015 at 3:35 pm

I must say I loved this post! I put it into action this morning at breakfast to thank our au pair for making a beautiful breakfast table and I could visibly see how the au pair and the kids responded with pleasure to the compliment. Thanks for a very timely reminded to comment on the good things! On another note, our au pair forgot to pick the kids up from camp at lunch today and I received a call from the camp telling me two little boys were in the office waiting for someone! I sent her a curt text and had to interrupt my meeting to go get the boys myself, but the day started on such a nice note!

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